Tour legend Stephen Roche defends leader Chris Froome
Dubliner blames media for abuse suffered by Sky rider
Stephen Roche, the 1987 Tour de France champion, has attacked the vitriol hurled towards yellow jersey holder Chris Froome and his Team Sky squad.
Dubliner Roche won the Tour 28 years ago after claiming the Giro d'Italia crown, during which he faced abuse for competing against his Italian team-mate Roberto Visentini.
Froome was drenched in urine and called a 'doper' during Saturday's 14th stage to Mende, where he enhanced his lead to three minutes and 10 seconds ahead of the race's finish in Paris next Sunday, July 26.
The 30-year-old Team Sky leader insists he races clean and felt some of the reporting of his performances was a contributing factor to the public reaction from a small minority of roadside fans.
Roche agrees and has called for rational thought regarding the performances of Froome and Team Sky, for whom his son Nicolas is riding in support of the 2013 champion.
Roche said: "With Chris there's no foundation. It's pure jealousy and speculation.
"I'm very disappointed in the reaction of the media. There's no reason whatsoever to make a scandal out of so little information.
"My heart goes out to Froome. The poor guy is doing everything he possibly can.
"There's never (before) been anybody so transparent.
"Some journalists responsible for bringing down the likes of Armstrong and other athletes believe in Froome.
"What must people be told, journalists be told, to give the guy a bit of credibility for what he's doing?"
Andre Greipel took his third stage victory by winning a bunch sprint at the end of Stage 15 yesterday, while Froome remained in control of the overall race lead on a day when French police boosted security around his team.
Greipel, the Lotto-Soudal rider from Germany, powered to the line at Valence.
John Degenkolb of the Giant-Alpecin team was second, Katusha's Alexander Kristoff third and Peter Sagan of Tinkoff-Saxo finished fourth on the 183km stage from Mende.
Police stationed half a dozen officers around Froome's Team Sky bus at the start after the race leader complained the previous day that a spectator shouting "doper!" in French hurled a cup of urine at him on Stage 14.
Froome blamed what he called "very irresponsible" media for turning public opinion against him and his team by questioning their dominant performance. Froome repeated that claim at the finish in Valence.
"What I am saying is that if people are led to believe that these performances are not legitimate, that's what's going to push them to start booing, and to start punching and spitting and throwing urine on riders," Froome said.
He again insisted cycling is cleaner than it was.
"Times have changed. Everyone knows that," he said. "This isn't the wild west that it was 10 or 15 years ago. Of course there are still going to be riders who take risks in this day and age, but they are the minority. It was the other way around 10 or 15 years ago. There is no reason in this day and age for that level of suspicion to continue. There's absolutely no reason."
Because of its flat finish, Stage 15 represented the last opportunity for sprinters to shine before climbers take back the spotlight in the Alps in the last week after a rest day on Tuesday.
Mark Cavendish, the only rider to beat Greipel in a massed bunch sprint at this Tour, wasn't able to compete for the win in Valence because he was dropped by the speeding pack early in the stage that was hilly at the beginning.
Telling himself "you have to hang on here," Greipel managed to stay with the pack that rode at a furious pace over the bumpy terrain, determined not to let breakaway riders take the stage win.
At Valence, Greipel and his team positioned him neatly for the final sprint. From there, he did the rest, choosing just the right time to accelerate away.
"I made the right decision. The team put me in the right spot," Greipel said.
"I had the power in my legs to finish it to the line," he said. "It's all about the legs. Mother Nature gave me this."
Cavendish rolled in among a last group of 26 riders who finished nearly 16 minutes behind Greipel. Greipel launched himself at top speed about 300 meters (yards) from the line and held on for his ninth stage win overall at the Tour. At this Tour, he also won stages 2 and 5.
The manager of Cavendish's Etixx-Quick Step team, Patrick Lefevere, said the British rider was exhausted after a bad night's sleep in a hotel without air conditioning.
"After two weeks of the Tour de France those things kill you," Lefevere said.
Cavendish said stomach problems kept him awake.
"I felt empty at the start," he said. "After about 30 kilometers (18 miles) we knew it was about surviving the day. We knew there wasn't a chance to win with me."
The sprinters' last chance for a stage win will be on the Champs-Elysees in Paris next Sunday. But they must first survive four days of climbing in the Alps.
Monday's Stage 16 before the rest day takes the Tour into the foothills to Gap. With two moderate climbs followed by a downhill finish, it should suit punchy riders lower down in the overall standings who are looking for a stage win before the podium challengers do battle in the really big mountains.
Froome goes into the Alps, the last major obstacle, with a comfortable lead and is nearing closer to his second win, having first won the Tour in 2013.
The Sky team rider finished safely in the main pack with the other podium favorites on Sunday, and there were no changes in their overall placings.
Froome still leads second-placed Nairo Quintana by 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Tejay van Garderen of the BMC team remains 3:32 back in third.
Jamey Keaten in Valence contributed to this report.
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